I’m so annoyed at myself. I’ve let myself get focused on the external results of my tummy love project, instead of the internal. Yep, that’s right. I’m focused on the way my stomach looks. Augh!
Going with the theme of being gentle with myself, a couple of “life things” have occurred that may have affected this:
I got sick. I got some weird bug where I have a cold, dry, tired eyes, extreme fatigue, slight earache and dizziness. Not only does this limit the amount of cardio I do (which is STRICTLY a spiritually-beneficial exercise for me that I do once a week), but illness has never really contributed to anyone’s good body image, methinks.
The holidays. And it’s not the extra food I’m talking about. I loved that part of it! Holidays=stress and expectations,more time spent with family members, which brings up old family issues and emotions. Emotions typically lay under the blanket statement, “Ugh, I feel fat.” Fat is not a feeling (although an old college classmate liked to argue with me about that ad nauseum), and there are usual genuine feelings and negative self-concepts that underlie that body image. I’m not going to get into specifics here, but you get the picture.
So, how do I get back on track?
Doing goofy things like punching the muscular wall in my stomach that wasn’t there 10ish days ago and going, “HUAH!“. No, really! For some reason, having muscles doesn’t trigger me either way – it just makes me feel strong, internally. When I used eating disordered behaviors, it was all about losing weight (including muscle, if it meant the number on the scale would be lower.) So doing that reminds me I have made internal progress.
I’ve talked to my tummy too. Yep, no shame! Somewhere I read that utilizing positive mantras specifically for your stomach would increase your body image. It works! You can say something as simple as “I accept you.” I just haven’t done it as much as I did in the beginning, so of course it’s not working.
Usin’ the self-talk. This is sort of an off-shoot of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) where you can coach yourself out of irrational thought processes. For example, I might say to myself, “Amanda, the more I focus on the way my stomach looks, the more I’m missing the point. Also, focusing on its appearance will just wake up my ED thoughts, then they’ll say you’ll never look good enough, so then you’ll give up on your awesome tummy-love project. Which would be silly”. And so on. It turns out talking to yourself doesn’t mean you’re crazy! As long as it’s not out loud.
Anywho, I look forward to getting back on track. I do think some bellydancing may be in order this week!
By now, we ALL know that Les Miserables (the movie adaptation) is pretty kickass, minus some Russell Crowe what-the-eff-ness. And by now we ALL know that Anne Hathaway, poor dedicated perfectionist Anne Hathaway, starved herself by eating 500 calories a day to become dying-Fantine-skinny. To be specific, she ate two dried oatmeal paste squares a day.
Good for you, Anne Hathaway. Good for fucking you.
Before we get into the barrage of, “Oh, that’s Hollywood!” or “Well, she was a starving character!”, let me lay this on you.
1. Keep your twisted diet secrets to yourself. The fact that you told people this tells me you have some sort of martyr thing going. (“Oh, look at me! I almost died for this role!”)
2. A world where women get rewarded by Oscar statuettes for getting to a weight where they can’t reproduce is fucked up. Period.
And this is coming from a woman who loves Les Mis. I have, in fact, been known to belt “On My Own” in the shower and at previous auditions. So I know alllllllllll…..lllllllll about the musical and who Fantine is blah blah blah. And I’m sure Anne is fantastic.
Now, backing up, to be fair…what is my part in this? Did I seek this out? Not really. I hopped on Facebook and there was the headline, “Les Mis Director Begged Anne Hathaway to Stop Losing Weight”. I am in recovery from an eating disorder, so yeah, I’m fucking triggered by this shit probably more than the usual person. But I’m willing to bet all this body image stuff sits in the backs of you normies’ minds, too.
And lastly, I’m just sick of even bringing this shit to light. I feel like it draws more attention to it and glamorizes it further. Apologies for the crude language…I’m just sick of being inundated with messages of starvation that induce guilt as I sit here eating hummus and pita chips.
You know that weight I dropped after delivering Fiona? The freakish amount I blogged about in a previous entry? The weight loss that everyone commented on positively?
I hadn’t weighed that little since I was sick. I only knew this because I fit into clothes I hadn’t dared to try on since then, such as dresses I couldn’t let go of for sentimental reasons.
So, what that comes down to is –
Everyone told me I looked good at the weight I don’t get my period at.
Now THAT is fucked up.
Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t judge the people who complimented me – I blame society. There were several times in history when Rubenesque women were believed to be the highest standard of beauty. We forget that, in this angular, both-ends-of-the-extreme, carb-obsessed world we live in.
So, if we are to take my personal example, society endorses a woman’s beauty when she is at the weight where she is unable to reproduce.
Is this is end of feminism?
No, really – what this says to me is that we are rejecting a woman when she is healthy enough to do the thing most unique and miraculous about being a woman (in some opinions); bearing children.
And if you want to take it a step further, society is rejecting reproduction, thus, the end of society.
You may laugh, you may think my analysis overdone, but I know better.
I once heard at a self-help group, “When I look the best on the outside I’m usually doing the worst on the inside.” How true.
When I am not eating, or conversely binging on pastries, when I am not exercising because I’m stressed out by motherhood, when I am forgetting to take my vitamins because I’ve let my self-care go to shit, when I am not connecting to people and isolating, that is when people tell me I look good. Is it the circles under my eyes that make me look sexier? Is it the way my clothes droop off me because none of them fit me anymore? Is it the fact that I don’t get my period and am basically androgynous now? Or is it my hair that’s falling out at a rapid clip? Tell me which one.
When I am taking my vitamins, eating my daily breakfast of peanut butter oatmeal to keep my cholesterol down, when I am eating three meals and three snacks a day, when I am exercising regularly – that is when nobody comments on my weight because it is simply and humbly normal, a weight that rests between bone-thin and overweight. It doesn’t look spectacular in a swimsuit, but it doesn’t look half bad in an evening gown either. It’s so in-between it’s almost mundane. Maybe that’s what our problem is. We’re all afraid of not standing out, of being just another worker among workers. We don’t have the courage to be normal.
This morning, as I was getting ready to go to work, I was distracted by the story on the Today show. Paul M. Kramer, an author and self-publisher, recently wrote a book called, “Maggie Goes on a Diet”. (It should be noted that the book’s intended audience is 4-8). In it, the main character is overweight, and is ridiculed by others at school. So, she decides to do something about it, and loses weight. As a result of her safe weight loss, she becomes popular and joins the soccer team. She is also very proud of herself.
Do I think this is necessarily “anorexia bait”, as others have said? Not necessarily. Do I think this is quality reading for a four year old? Not at all. Like I have stated numerous times before, I don’t believe ED’s happen because of 1 triggering factor. However, OVER MY DEAD BODY would you see me reading this to my soon-to-arrive baby girl.
My first problem with the book is that it addresses happiness from the outside in. The message “If you want to have internal happiness, you must change the external first.” Any buddhist or meditation flip-through book will tell you that you can achieve personal happiness at ANY moment, regardless of size or financial status or hair color. Changing your weight can potentially do nothing for your happiness, and all the temporary external gains Maggie received from weight loss (popularity, etc) would eventually fall away.
My second problem with this book is that it does place the anorexia-predisposed young lady at risk for a major trigger. Let me tell you a story about a young 12 year old girl. The young lady in question was an intelligent, compassionate girl who loved to sing and help others. She was teased relentlessly by peers in school about her weight, until she decided to do something about it. She decided to lose 60 lbs in 5 months, until her period stopped and she grew a fine layer of hair on her arms due to temperature changes in her body. She began to believe that her new, beautiful, waif identity was all she was good for, and she genuinely believed this until her mid-twenties. But man, were those compliments from the popular kids good.
Amanda went on a diet, and it sucked.
And it turned into an eating disorder.
Third, I just don’t think any 4-8 year old needs to have “diet” in her vocabulary. A balance of healthy foods? Sure. In an interview on Fox news, Kramer contradicts himself and says he believes no child should ever go on a diet. Moments later, he acknowledges that Maggie does indeed go on a diet.
I truly don’t think this guy had the worst intentions – I really don’t – I just think he’s stuck in the trance that the rest of the country is, the trance that says “LESS WEIGHT MORE HAPPY”. I think he was poorly informed.
And, this book sends a message that says, “Hey bullies! Keep doin what you’re doin! The victims of your words will change themselves so you can keep being an asshole!”
And one last question…why is the central character of a weight loss book a GIRL?
And I’m so fucking sick of hearing people claim that it is!
Think about it. We have sadness, happiness, joy, fear, anger, rage, confusion, agitation, despair, jubilance, anguish, compassion, defeat, glee, foolishness, hatred, insanity, misery, loving, panic, optimism, regret, shame, and thousands of other beautiful words in the English language one can use to describe how they’re feeling. However, most individuals at some point or another have appointed “fat” – a greasy, porous substance – as a feeling word. And it’s simply not.
Eckhart Tolle talks about unconsciousness causing suffering and pain in an individual. Well, I believe the expression “I feel fat” is one of the most unconscious, trance-like utterings on the face of this earth. Repeated over and over, it is used by many to a) cover up how they’re really feeling about consuming food and feeding themselves and b) fit in with an image-obsessed culture, which isn’t really cool to begin with.
So what are you really avoiding when you say it? Are you feeling physical discomfort? Are you feeling guilty because you ate more than is socially acceptable? Are you fearful of judgment by your waiter or dining companion? Or is it deeper issue? Do you feel like it says something about your character? That you are inherently sloth-like or lazy? Is it indicative of something you are too afraid to go near?
Sadly, most people will never approach this kind of mindfulness. But it is this kind of tuning-in that facilitates growth about both physical and emotional appetites.
When I was stuck in this trance, when I was sick with an eating disorder, it was about the fear of being “too much” in general. Anyone who truly knows me knows that my emotions naturally run high and I tend to be passionate about causes and people. And I feared that was too much for others. So my eating behaviors were indicative of such: I starved myself to have no emotions, no passion, no space to take up. Starvation numbed the “too-much” ness I feared. But it was a lot easier to just say, “I feel fat.”
Do me a favor. As this week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, take a second after your next hearty meal and ask yourself what you’re feeling. Don’t use food as a way to check out or disconnect. Tune into yourself and be ok with whatever you carry with you. Cause guess what? You’re not feeling fat.
One of the best things about this blog are the comments and questions I get from my intelligent and insightful friends. Recently, a friend of mine sent me the following question via Facebook:
“eating disorder awareness week: does this include obesity?…given that it at least appears to be an eating disorder, as well as the impact it has on American health and well-being, i thought it might qualify…………”
So, is it?
Currently, the DSM-IV (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, aka the therapist’s bible) lists 4 eating disorders: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Rumination Disorder (a disorder I actually was completely unaware existed and involves regurgitation in infants and young children) and Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (otherwise known as ED-NOS; this is diagnosed when an individual meets some of the criteria for both Anorexia and Bulimia but does not meet all the criteria for one or the other. I was diagnosed with this.)
The fifth edition of the DSM, which is coming out in 2013, is considering making Binge-Eating Disorder a separate diagnostic entity. So, to answer my friend’s question, it is being considered an eating disorder, if one assumes that binge-eating is the precursor to obesity.
And to shock the pants off of all of you, I have an opinion about this.
When my friend first proposed this question, I immediately became very protective and defensive of eating disorders as separate from obesity (hello?! terminal uniqueness.). I shot from the hip with the response that obesity is touted in the spotlight constantly as “bad, disgusting and ugly”, while stick-thin celebrities, models and athletes promote an image we are supposed to lust after. One extreme (thinness) is idolized while another(obesity) is frowned upon. That’s fucked up, because eating pickles and fresca daily can stop your heart quicker than years of binge-eating can. So, shouldn’t we, as a society, categorize mental illness as a pattern of behaviors that mirror an unhealthy balance in society that society itself can’t recognize? (In other words, it can recognize obesity is bad, but cannot recognize being too thin as unhealthy. Thus, disordered.)
But, don’t I argue that this is a society of extremes, of all-or-nothing thinking? By that token, either extreme should be unhealthy, and perhaps considered a mental illness. One can drown their sorrows one of many ways – by starving themselves until they are a being that has no needs or emotions, by regurgitating unneeded feelings, or by bingeing on carbs until they can feel no more.
In the end, here’s what I think: it has nothing to do with the way people look or the weight they reside at. For a long time, bulimia nervosa was discounted as an eating disorder because many of the individuals who suffered from it maintained a “healthy” weight. Like I stated in previous posts, one can be 134 pounds (I hate using numbers, but I have to) and have completely sick, eating disordered thinking. So, with that thinking…yeah. Either end of the spectrum is an eating disorder. Perhaps eating disorders are more like substance abuse addictions than we think – perhaps they are more self-diagnosable than, say, the current four criteria that are required for a sound diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. Perhaps one doesn’t need to be at 75% of their ideal body weight to know their constant body-checking and weighing is getting in the way of their happiness. Perhaps one doesn’t need to be at the line of obesity to know their binge-eating is out of control.
In this refreshing article, American ice dancer Tanith Belbin endorses the benefits of weight gain and acknowledges her “problems with eating”. After her coach suggested a slight increase in weight, Tanith noticed a positive change in her mood and in her skating.
I completely relate. In an attempt to look prettier onstage, I used to uselessly starve myself a month before the show I was in went into production. This only caused me to feel weak, project less energy onstage, and to forget lines and dance steps. However, when I allowed myself to indulge during a run of the show, I would have boundless energy and would give an overall better performance.
Five years ago, I was a nervous wreck around food. When I first got out of treatment, I would obsessively cook the same meal for dinner over and over: tofu, parmesan couscous, and green beans. I would measure each portion, making sure the pasta grains didn’t rise above the 1 cup mark. I would sit in front of the TV and eat alone, methodically taking bites of each of the three foods in order, over and over again until nothing remained. There was no joy in this routine; I was simply eating because people told me it would help.
I did the same at breakfast. I ate strawberry yogurt mixed with granola at the same Au Bon Pain table every morning before I went to my “get-well” job at Jasmine Sola. I was terrified when Crystal took me that summer to Chili’s for my first “normal meal out”. I had ordered something safe, like salmon, after deciding everything else on the menu would make me gain five pounds instantly. I couldn’t sit still in my newfound fat. I thought no man would find me attractive, unless I was 110 lbs and waif-like.
If you would have told me then that five years later I’d enjoy a piece of pizza in the same day that I happily ate chocolate-chip pancakes at 4 in the morning after going clubbing, I would have laughed in your face. Which gives me hope for other things I am going through.
There is a school of thought that is currently passing through the eating disorder field: it is that one can be completely and totally recovered from an eating disorder. Jenni Schaefer, the author of Life Without Ed, and the spokeswoman for the Center of Change, is a major advocate of this school of thought. On her website, she states,
“I want people who struggle with eating disorders to know it is possible to move from being ‘in recovery’ to being ‘fully recovered,'” she says. “I want them to get into life and follow their dreams, not be stuck in or defined by an eating disorder.”
Now, before I go on, it should be known that I respect and perhaps emulate Jenni Schaefer; I had the pleasure of meeting her and briefly debating the why’s and how’s of why there are no eating disorder anonymous groups, akin to AA. However, I have to play devil’s advocate to this one.
I believe once you got it, you got it for life. Whether it’s alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder, or OCD. And I think that’s a. too scary for some people to deal with, and b. not marketable to the general american public, who want a quick fix for everything. Which is why Aimee Liu and Jenni Schaefer’s new take on a terminable recovery process is so popular.
I know for me – I will always have to take care of my eating disorder. My therapist explained it the best back in 2005. She said, “It’s something that will always be there, but it will be louder at some points and quieter at others. When it’s loud, you take extra steps to take care of yourself. You go back to basics. Either way, you’re always going to have to take care of it.” I hated hearing this at the time – I didn’t like accepting the fact that there was something weak in me that I would have to watch out for the rest of my life. But I learned, after losing 15 pounds in two months last year without noticing, that it can sneak up on you without the slightest warning. The disease is sneaky, and I fear that a terminable outlook on recovery may be dangerous to those who think they’re out of the woods for good.
Perhaps none of us are out of the flawed or defined by their disease. Maybe it’s still possible to consider yourself permanently in recovery, AND to be successful and known in your chosen field. One can fill many roles at once – daughter, engineer, mother, woman or man in recovery.
I wonder if a desire to be “recovered.” indicates some level of hatred for the disease. And I can’t hate it. I used to, but now I’m grateful for it, for it’s given me a spin on food not a lot of people I know have. I don’t believe in diets, magazines, or value-laden food talk. In fact, I won’t stand for it. But I stay humbled, especially when others quizzically inquire about my natural instinct to tear up food to make it less scary, or when they notice my tendency to skip meals unless I push myself. It’s still there. It’s there when I stop in front of the mirror and robotically check to see how thin I look in the morning. It’s still doing push-ups in wait.
Which is why I’m a grateful recovering eating disordered woman, even though I do not appear it outwardly today.
OK. There is a phrase called “terminally unique” that is used in various recovery forums. Broken down, this can refer to thoughts individuals have such as:
“No one has ever felt this way before. I’m so alone in this feeling. No one’s as isolated, or weird, or as quirky as me.”
In other words, think of the hipsters you see on Comm Ave in Allston.
All joking aside, I’m sure we can all connect to this feeling on some level or another. (All of you – especially you theater kids – cannot escape this one.) At some point in our lives, we’ve all been in a crap mood, sitting on the sidelines and thinking there is just. no. one. as. lonely/special yet single/depressed. as. I. am. For the average individual, this feeling is awful, yet bearable. For the person who struggles with any kind of addiction, this kind of thinking can be fatal. I’m not being dramatic. It really is. For this kind of reasoning leads to depression, which leads to isolation, which leads to addictive behaviors. (Because addictive behaviors are CLEARLY one’s best friend when no one is around!)
I will very readily admit I have a case of the terminally unique, and I think this kind of existence can be very prevalent in girls and women with eating disorders. Why? Think about a starved woman. She stands out from others. It’s a visual way of communicating to the world that something is off-balance, but also a way of communicating that she can perform an inhuman feat that no one else can: extreme self-discipline. Therefore, terminally unique.
This concept is the reason I cherished my “glamorous” city existence for so long, ripe with pomegranate martinis, Carrie Bradshaw-inspired outfits, and knowledge of all the trendy restaurants. I wanted to be one of Boston’s young and beautiful. And to be that, I had to be thin. When I was really sick in 2005, I remember hanging out solo in Fenway at Boston Beer Works. Some guy had temporarily attached himself to my arm because of our terminally unique shared fondness for blueberry beer. He pinched his forefinger and thumb around my tiny arm, smiled, and sputtered incredulously,
“You’re so….tiny! Oh my God, I love it.”
Therefore driving the ball out of the park in the means of cementing my belief that you had be super skinny to get a guy, or to do anything in life for that matter. But I digress.
Now that I’ve got that shpiel out of the way, let me segue into current varying schools of thought in the eating disorder research and educational world. When eating disorders were first getting talked about and treated, doctors and therapists thought that it was mainly a social disease. In other words, they thought eating disorders were different from disorders like autism and schizophrenia, which have a genetic component. Well, just recently, scientists have started to figure out that there is a genetic component to eating disorders (i.e., the hypothalamus is shaped differently in the brains of eating disordered clients, all anorexics and bulimics contain susceptibility genes, etc). As I blogged in an earlier post, Aimee Liu recently wrote an informed book, Gaining, about the genetic component to eating disorders.
Let me start by saying that I agree with Aimee: there is most certainly a genetic component to this disease. Also, her book provided me with various studies that delineated the different subdivisions of anorexic and bulimic personality traits (which are different). However, I reject her rejection of Caroline Knapp and others who continue to fight the battle against the social forces which are clearly a factor in the development of an eating disorder.
I stand by my old biopsychosocial model – any mental illness or disorder is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Not one alone.
In Appetites, Caroline Knapp contends that most white, affluent, over-educated women struggle with a sense of self-deprivation that is similar to what anorexics experience. In Gaining, Aimee disputes this, asking the question, “And do all white, affluent, educated women in fact feel compelled to deprive themselves?”
Maybe not all, but I’d wager that about 95% of the women reading this blog have struggled with their literal and metaphorical appetites at one point or another.
“I’m afraid that Lelwica and I are looking at the same picture from two very different perspectives. She’s standing at a distance and painting the landscape with a broad brush, while I’m looking close enough to see the actual faces and lives of individuals. She’s including every woman who looks at fashion magazines or thinks twice about having a hot fudge sundae. I’m interested in the factors that distinguish those who easily maintain a healthy weight from those who are psychologically enslaved by their obsessions.”
This is what I fear: that Aimee’s dismissal of social and psychological commentary further propagates the terminal uniqueness that only makes eating disordered women more enslaved by their illness.
Why? To say all eating disordered women possess these similar genetic traits may isolate the one girl out there who doesn’t quite fit into the bulimic or anorexic genetic jackpot. She may think, “See? I don’t fit into the anorexic stereotype. Therefore, I must be too fat or not sick enough.” (Thereby establishing her terminal uniqueness, even from other eating disordered women. As she throws up her breakfast.)
Don’t get me wrong. Aimee has made a huge contribution to the field, and I cannot thank her enough. However, I am wary of her tendency to discount women writers who recognize the dangerousness of the media. It is out there, and it is a dangerous force. I worry that she is isolating the field and not uniting it. I worry that she is isolating women, instead of joining them in a battle against an unhealthy society.
PS, I consumed an entire Ghiradelli chocolate bar in the writing of this entry, clad in sweats and glasses. Am I cured from my own terminal uniqueness? Nah, not cured, but definitely on my way.
Thanks to my beautiful cousin Cassie for providing me with the link to this story. Apparently one is now not allowed to gain weight after your boyfriend’s death. One should stay uber-skinny because it’s more pleasing to the eye of many an idiot internet-goer.